DUI… DON’T… but if you DO… Here’s What You Need to Know (Part 1)
Hopefully everyone holding an FAA medical certificate is aware that one situation which can jeopardize this privilege is an arrest or conviction for DUI. However, if you are not aware, I will attempt to outline this process, discuss the confusions, and provide some insight into the many varied outcomes and consequences. The FAA views DUI charges seriously, and should you find yourself in this situation, you should consider these charges as serious too. My first advice…do all within your power to avoid getting there! So please don’t drink and drive, EVER.
Most reading this article will say, “It will never happen to me”. However, should you find yourself in this misfortunate position, there are numerous reporting requirements you should be aware of. For those who believe it will never happen, I suggest you read on so you will understand why you never want to place yourself in this situation. If your livelihood depends on your FAA medical certificate, even more reason to read this information.
The reporting process has become very complicated and complex and is often misunderstood, not only by airmen but by the FAA aviation medical examiners (AMEs) who manage them. The intent of this article is not only to clarify the process but also to avoid pitfalls which may lead to additional delays in the FAA decision-making process; a decision which may require one to enter treatment or request a Special Issuance Authorization (SIA). In order to provide more detailed information, I have linked source documents throughout this article.
The first step is outlining the FAA reporting requirements for DUIs or Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAIs). As most airmen know, when you file an FAA Application for Medical Certification (FAA Form 8500-8 through MedXpress) you must report any history of arrest, convictions or administrative actions related to the operation of a motor vehicle and use of drugs or alcohol. By completing the form during the application process, you provide the FAA the authorization to check the National Driving Registry. It’s important to note that failure to report this type of history is considered a felony offense.
In addition to reporting on your FAA medical application, there is a requirement to report a conviction or “administrative action” to the FAA’s Security and Hazardous Materials Safety Office (AXE-700), formerly known as the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division (AMC-700). This reporting must occur within 60 calendar days of the effective date of the motor vehicle action which includes the cancellation, suspension, or revocation of a driver’s license in addition to a conviction related to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated on drugs or alcohol. This is a requirement under 14 CFR 61.15 (c) linked here.
You can report using the FAA’s notification letter and provide this letter to the FAA either by mail or fax as noted on the form. This letter outlines and provides the FAA all needed information required. I would also refer you to this link of frequently asked questions regarding DUI reporting, along with a link that provides examples of reportable DUI/DWI/OWUI administrative actions or convictions.
What’s important to note is that not only must you report the administrative action within 60 days of such action, but also should there ultimately be a conviction, a report must be sent to AXE-700 within 60 days of that conviction. Most pilots are not aware of this follow-on reporting requirement.
Typically, once you make this initial report, you will receive a confirmation letter from the Security Division. Those letters usually remind you of the second reporting requirement following the subsequent conviction. It’s also important to note that failure to later report the final conviction is also considered a violation. Now that you have the FAA security folks satisfied, let’s turn to reporting on your FAA medical application. In fact, often reporting to Securities leads to notification of the FAA’s medical department which issues a request for more information. Individuals applying for an FAA medical certificate for the very first time have requirements that vary slightly depending on when their first or subsequent DUIs occurred. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus primarily on those individuals who have held and maintained an FAA medical certificate for many years (not a first-time applicant). We are also going to assume that the DUI “event” has occurred since your last FAA medical application or at least less than 5 years since your last application. There are of course exceptions, i.e., someone who has been without a medical for an extended period of time because of some other circumstance.
The circumstances of reporting the DUI arrest, conviction or administrative action on your medical application (Item 18(v) on FAA Form 8500-8/MedXpress) can be broken down into two primary groups. The first group are those who are reporting a first time arrest, conviction or administrative action. The second group are those who are reporting a subsequent arrest, conviction or administrative action.
Unlike the reporting to the FAA’s Security and Hazardous Materials Office where there is a 60-day suspense, reporting on your FAA medical application is only required at the time of your next application (FAA physical examination). As you will see, waiting until the time of that next application may not be a wise decision. Technically, charges, convictions or administrative actions don’t invalidate your medical certificate or find you medically disqualified unless you have an actual clinical diagnosis of alcohol or substance abuse or dependence. However, evaluations required under the reporting process may. There are also many reports and statements that will have to be provided to your AME at the time of your next FAA medical exam, so you need to be prepared. I will now go through this process in more detail.
So what if this is a first time reporting situation? The key is your blood/breath alcohol reading from the arrest or whether you refused to be administered such a test at the time of the arrest. Therefore, if you are ever stopped for a DUI check, it’s important to comply with any testing requested as the FAA will assume a refusal automatically equates to an excessively high alcohol level. Again, we are assuming this first-time event occurred since your last FAA medical application or at least less than 5 years ago.
For first-time individuals whose blood/breath alcohol level was less than 0.15 g/dl, the AME should complete the AME alcohol event report which is linked for you to review. As you will notice, there are many questions asked of the AME and many documents which you as the airman must provide. The instructions are clear; should any of the grey blocks on this form be marked or if the AME cannot review the required records within 14 days of the application, the AME must defer the medical certificate to Oklahoma City.
So what specifically must you provide your AME? The list includes a personal statement, the blood/breath alcohol concentration (BAC) from the arrest, court records, DMV/driving records for the past 10 years, any evidence of treatment, and any substance abuse evaluations. To be clear, often many of these things don’t exist, but the FAA will want the airman to so state if they don’t. The FAA has provided an “FAA Certification Aid” which outlines these specific requirements for the airman. Please note that only Page 1 of this aid is specific to the airman. All other pages are for others who may be involved with this initial reporting process (HIMS AME, Substance Abuse Evaluator (SAE), psychiatrist, and neuro-psychologist). The information outlined on this first page must be provided to your AME at the time of your medical. As you can see, many of these documents will require time to obtain, so go prepared!
Once these documents are provided to your AME, he/she should complete the alcohol event report as noted above. If all items checked fall into the clear column, then the AME can issue the new medical certificate if you are otherwise qualified. As noted previously, if the AME cannot review these documents within 14 days of the application OR if any single item falls within the shaded column, the instruction is then to defer the application and certificate to Oklahoma City. Some AMEs may contact Oklahoma City or the Regional Flight Surgeon for further guidance but this can vary.
Hopefully you find this introduction enlightening and it has provided you sufficient information to educate on initial reporting requirements. In our next issue, we’ll address what happens if the medical is deferred to the FAA.
Stay Safe, Drink Responsibly, and use rideshare services as needed this Holiday season!
W. Keith Martin, MD, MPH, Chairman